PFSC President Craig Heath interviews one of skating’s living legends: Peggy Fleming

Q&A taken from Professional Figure Skating 2001-2002 magazine.

Craig Heath: In what ways do you think Professional Skating has grown since you turned pro?

Peggy Fleming: There are so many more opportunities today than in the 60’s when I turned pro. After I won the Olympics, there were 2 options, the ice shows or teach. Today, there are pro competitions, TV specials, and chances to choreograph, or produce events. And of course, the ice shows have been replaced by Stars on Ice and the World Champions Tour. I credit the vision of several men with the blossoming of the pro skating world. Dick Button would be the first. He was a pioneer in pro competitions, and he knew exactly what he wanted. The tradition, love and quality he has put into his events have set the standard for a quarter of a century. Tom Collins idea of what a skating tour should be was the basis for the World Champions tour, and Scott Hamilton developed Stars on Ice into a breeding ground for choreography and artistic intent. Both these tours are what every skater aims for in their pro careers. I think our sport will always need the driving force of strong, creative personalities to make it stretch and branch out.

CH: You have been so involved in figure skating and have been such a positive role model for millions of people worldwide. How does that make you feel?

PF: Great. Sometimes it feels like a big responsibility, but I’m grateful for everything that it has given to me.

CH: When you think of your skating career and all of the things that it has given to you, what stands out most in your mind?

PF: Probably the confidence that skating gives to me. That confidence has given me courage in the face of a lot of different challenges over the last 4 decades. Skating was the basis for everything that has followed in my career. It gave me the ability to excel.

CH: When you are commentating, I have always admired your positive outlook on the skaters that are performing. What is your objective when you are in the position to influence millions of people viewing the event on television?

PF: I’ve always felt that being a commentator is a cross between a judge and a coach. I try to be honest in my commentary, but I want the criticism to be constructive. When I’m on the air I’m trying to analyze what’s happening on the ice, but I’m also trying to paint a bigger picture about the skater….give the audience a framework to understand what’s happening. I’m so lucky that I work with the on-air team that I do, Terry Gannon, Dick, Peter Carruthers, and Suzie Wynne. Each one of them is passionate about doing the best job they can. That’s very inspiring to be around.

CH: Your battle with breast cancer and your inspirational way of dealing with it has helped so many women deal with the issue themselves. What is your ultimate goal in speaking publicly about your life and cancer?

PF: It’s been therapeutic for me to share my cancer story. I do a lot of public speaking now, and about half of my appearances are for hospitals or medical foundations. Meeting so many courageous people across the country has been very inspiring for me and I hope it’s been the same for them. My big message is early detection…..for all types of cancer. I really want people to pay attention and take charge of their health.

CH: How has having breast cancer changed, or not changed, you as a person?

PF: Well, it’s certainly reminded me that I’m not invincible! Bad things can happen to any of us. The key is how you handle it and grow from the challenge. I hope I’m more compassionate now, about others facing serious health crises. It’s also changed my attitude towards my day to day existence. I think I’m not as driven as I once was, and I’m appreciating my life more.

CH: I know that you have always taken very good care of your body by eating right and working out. What inspiring words do you have for the people reading this article?

PF: Life is unscripted. Anything can and will happen, but remember that every challenge is an opportunity. I honestly think that the good times in my life have given me confidence, but the bad times have given me strength.

CH: With the Olympics coming up, and particularly because they are being held in the USA, what new and exciting projects are you involved in?

PF: Since NBC has these Olympics, and I’m exclusive to ABC, I won’t be there for commentating duties. I will be in Salt Lake on behalf of GM, Hallmark, and American Express, though. I hope I’ll get to see a lot of the skating, but it’s always great to be at the Olympics for any reason.

CH: Is there anything that stands out in your mind as the most influential and inspiring moment in professional figure skating history?

PF: There are just too many to name.

CH: I was talking with world, Olympic and professional figure skating choreographer, Brian Wright and I asked him what inspired him to skate when he was a kid. His answer was that he saw you do spread eagle, double axel, spread eagle in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and he wanted to do that. He wanted to do spread eagles. He can still see your spread eagles in his mind just like it was yesterday. Your influence has inspired people in more ways than you will ever know. How does that make you feel?

PF: I’m so flattered that some skaters are still inspired by my skating, It’s amazing after 33 years!

CH: What is your favorite thing about skating, particularly professional skating? I mean, what keeps you interested and inspired?

PF: My favorite thing about skating is when they “get it.” Sometimes a skater will go along for years, not seeing the big picture. Then, suddenly, a light bulb goes on, and their performance completely changes. I love seeing that in Olympic eligible or pro skating. It’s almost as if they hear the music for the first time…….or see the audience for the fist time. That’s what keeps me interested….sudden inspiration…and I love the creativity of our sport.

CH: Is there anything else that you want to tell our readers?

PF: Don’t get lost in the tunnel vision of figure skating. Explore every avenue you can, art, music, literature, dance. You never know where your inspiration is going to come from! Look to the past and the present….and maybe you’ll inspire the future generation.